PUBLIC SECTOR STILL CARRIES LARGER BURDEN OF EDUCATION
Some private institutions commended for imparting quality education
From KHALID BUTT, Lahore
Oct 24 - 30, 2005
The capital of Punjab is an ancient city tracing its recorded history right from the pre-historic period of over 2000 years. The city has always been known for its unique culture and traditions and a seat of learning. From the traditional schools known as Maktabs or Madressas to the present day schools, colleges and universities, Lahore has developed into a city which carved a niche for itself possessing fine institutions for disseminating knowledge in various disciplines. It, therefore, attracts a lot of people even from afar for its repute alone.
With the invasion of British and European influence, the city was one of the first to make a quick foray into developing diversified centres of modern education. Among the great cities of South Asia, Lahore was one of the foremost to take a lead after Calcutta to develop reputable educational institutions. It was thus appropriately called "city of colleges and schools," at the time of partition. Even after a great deal of disturbances and mass migration, the city retained its fine traditions of the past. Some of the leading institutions not only retained their aura of excellence and repute but continued to adapt to the changing circumstances and times. A number of institutions, founded by non-Muslim communities, trusts, bodies and groups, who left behind their assets during partition years, were re-started under new managements and some of them even with the same names and ideals to carry on their mission.
Lahore and notably the province of Punjab were thus able to ensure that the system of fine education was not jeopardised due to the upheaval, constant changes, political uncertainties and other factors which swept the country in post independence years. But then came the crunch as the country somehow forgotten to realise the real importance of future planning and the challenges it faced. The gap between the rising demands and resources grew ever bigger due to population explosion as also the faster and far reaching developments took place in the education system itself. Pakistan was content to take a back seat, while the whole world was changing and advancing into realm of hitech and adapting to the new realities.
Despite some stray and desperate calls, the ruling elite remained quite oblivious to heed the proffered advice. I recall with some sadness the pleas made by people like the only noble Laureate Dr Salam, who came from the backwater of Jhang, or even by Air Marshal Nur Khan, to realise the importance of education. But their words of wisdom fell on deaf ears. The country was largely in a shambles and creaking under its antiquated and inadequate system which failed to match the rising expectations and needs of the nation.
In this scenario came the role almost like an invasion of the private sector to fill the yawning gap and the initiative was mostly in the elementary and secondary level education which lately touched the college and even university level. Some credible groups took to field of which Beaconhouse School System was one of the pioneers. Started by two sisters, later one of them separated to launch a parallel City School System. Both have done exceptionally well spreading their wings all over the country with highly trained and disciplined faculty and campuses. The lead was also taken by some others to follow suit but it all was motivated basically by commercial interests, and turned out to what has now become a successful business venture. It has certainly filled a void but only touching the tip of an iceberg. The people at large and average citizens can hardly afford to benefit from these expensive private schools which charge exorbitant fees and other overheads.
In the garb of education, some unscrupulous elements also entered the field, using the fancy names of foreign university campuses to attract unwary students, looking for a rosy future. Some of these institutions which defrauded the people finally came to the notice of HEC which is now tackling this problem rather belatedly. One only wished government and its watchdog bodies were little more vigilant in this regard to have saved thousands of unwary people from this blatant fraud.
In this situation came the most welcome initiative of the Punjab government with its drive "Parha Likha Punjab" (an educated Punjab), the brainchild of the present Chief Minister, Ch Pervez Ellahi. He has announced free education for children upto matric and incentive stipends for girls, something which may boost education as well as serve as a role model for all other provinces.
With Punjab in its current mood of reviving its fine traditions of education and its leading institutions two organisations stand out, the Government College University and Kinnaird College for Women. Pakistan and Gulf Economist (PAGE) had a close look at these two prestigious institutions which have a long and distinguished history and proud traditions as centres of excellence.
GCU RETAINS ITS TOP POSITION
I have had the privilege of personally knowing Dr Khalid Aftab, the former Principal and now Vice Chancellor of Government College University. I called the genial VC to fix an appointment to visit the 142-year-old GCU and meet with him for a rambling chat, on the past, present and future of the best known institution.
As I entered the famous campus with its landmark building my mind ran through its over a century old history and long line of distinguished and eminent men of letters who headed it then since. Dr GW Leitner was its first principal in 1864 and he held on till 1886. It was the pioneering spirit of Dr Leitner and through his effort, the Calcutta University had first given recognition to the Punjab University and the proud tradition of higher education which were to take a firm footing in this farthest corner of the British empire then.
A picture gallery of all the eminent men who headed GC and the original desk and other settings glared at me as Dr Khalid Aftab welcome me in his treasure house of an office.
Talking about the private sector institutions, Dr Khalid Aftab acknowledged that some of these institutes have done a remarkable job. He counts LUMS, LSC and Punjab Group of colleges as contributing towards quality education. But by and large he says these are the public sector institutions imparting higher education to the students of average income background.
GC, he had inherited in 1993, was certainly quite different from what it represents and looks today. Although he had been an old Ravian himself and on its faculty in the Economics Dept, it was not until he took over when he brought sweeping changes. GC, like all other institutions, had fallen on something called decay, neglect and became afflicted with rising indiscipline and lack of futuristic growth and planning.
It is an acknowledged fact that an eminent professor or scholar may not necessarily be a good administrator. So it fell to the lot of present VC, to bring the long overdue changes and revive the old spirit and glory of GC with a renewed vigor. It was not an easy task. However, GC upgraded as GCU, with the autonomy of running its affairs and degree awarding authority, is breathing once again under its new found status and scope to move ahead, as the top institution and centre of excellence. Punjab Assembly through an Act had upgraded GC to an independent University. Under the vision of its first VC, it is now making up for the time lost and taking a quantum leap into the future. Already among the many new initiatives is the setting up of a School of Mathematical Sciences and a National Centre for Mathematics, with the help of world class Mathematicians on its faculty. It has added some new disciplines like Telecom, Computer Sciences, Management Science, Master Programme, Money and Banking Environmental Sciences, SME Studies, and MS programmes in Clinical Psychology to already existing other post graduate programmes.
Another feature has been a 4-year graduate programme to bring the level of its students at par with international level of recognition and acceptance.
The students on the rolls of GCU currently number over 6000, with a faculty as large as 325 plus, with 85 Ph.D holders and dozens of M. Phils. Over 25000 of its students are girls, and so is a large proportion of its faculty which makes it unique.
In the words of VC, "It is inconceivable that a college which started with nine students and three professors in 1864 could become a University in 2002. It required years of patience in the face of hardships, but we have been rewarded.
GCU is now 140 years old, with 6000 students and 325 professors. On this auspicious occasion, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to a long list of illustrious Principals, Professors and students who toiled ceaselessly to bring this institution to its present position of eminence. The challenge now is to keep our Alma Mater ahead of fast changing world. So we need to educate people for tomorrow, he said.
The fact is that the world is perpetually changing and it should be recognised that the change in response to the changing material conditions of life is the real cause of all progress. And nothing plays a more important role in bringing about change than a good educational system.
"We wish to see GCU among the top universities of the world. Given commitment to this ideal and careful planning, this goal should be achieved in the near future. I have complete faith in the ability of my colleagues and the dynamism of young Ravians who can turn this dream into a reality," he said.
KINNAIRD COLLEGE LOOKS AHEAD UNDER NEW PRINCIPAL
PAGE also had an exclusive interview with Mrs. Ira Hasan, another home grown product of Kinnaird College for women, who became its Principal in June last year after serving on its faculty for over 30 years.
Ira is also a former student, who are called OAKS, and about to complete her Ph.D, and is English Literature Professor and scholar on Shakespeare, theatre and drama.
Kinnaird College, which was founded in 1913, had started from a humble beginning to become one of the country's most coveted and prestigious colleges for women. It stand today as the leading light among the women colleges, with its impeccable record, proud traditions and a global repute.
KC, like GC too is breathing anew under a fresh and committed leadership, when after a long era, of its last incumbent, the new principal took over to have a fresh look to revive its fortunes in a big way.
The new Academic Block Science Laboratories, Library and Hostels with a growth oriented vision the college is set to touch greater heights in future. Ira says she is determined to add at least one new subject every year in its post graduate programmes.
Already the college has introduced post graduate programmes in six new subjects like Applied Linguistic, English Language teaching, French, Mass Communication, Environmental Sciences and Statistics. It has also started 4-year BA courses to upgrade the studies to required international level. Ira, whose ideal and role model is late Miss Manghat Rai, her former teacher and Principal, is determined to see Kinnaird hold its record of excellence, leadership and quality of students to the level which has made it so special for.